How We Know We’re Alive, it’s the regrets, mostly.
I haven’t played a walking simulator in a while and wanted to play another one and this game was one of the recent ones that caught my interest. It’s pretty short which was nice because I didn’t want to spend a ton of time in one and it was definitely worth playing.
Technically, it’s not a “choices matter” type of game until you reach a certain point between two different statements you could make which diversify the very ending. Every other choice of dialogue you make only adjusts the person’s response.
Explanation to Positive Feedback
I get a whole lot more in-depth with my answer as to why it’s so emotional, but man…when you start piecing things together, and speaking with the grave of your friend at the cemetery, and not knowing entirely what happened and if it was our fault, it’s pretty damn emotional.
Who doesn’t like the drizzling sound of rain, right?
How We Know We’re Alive is a beautiful, emotional narrative about a friend’s death and us trying to piece together how it might’ve happened. As with every self-detective hunt for answers, there are misread clues and wrong outcomes, but in the end, we get our answers.
It’s extremely well-written (aside from a few misspellings, mind you) and touches base on a possible suicide outcome in a religious, homophobic town in Sweden.
The soundtrack is melancholic and is blessed by the ASMR pattering of rain, as well as some other sounds here and there, such as birds chirping, depending on the scenes you go through.
There is no voice acting. The dialogue is announced by little blips of the characters speaking. Kind of like how Beacon Pines does, but I’m not sure if each character has their own tone to the sound of their words.
Speaking of characters…
We play as someone named Sara who’s come back to her former town after having moved to Stockholm some time back. The games starts off with our friend Maria texting us while on a bus. Though, it’s not her that’s on the bus texting us while we’re at our office job, it’s more of a memory of her texting us while we’re on the bus heading to our former hometown.
I’m not too sure if the constant flow of text are coming one after another on the same day, or if they’re spaced out over several days.
I want to say time passes between each text passed between the two of us, because otherwise Maria seems awfully needy and attention-hungry. Like she’s got nothing better to do than strike up a conversation with a friend that left her behind. And sometimes people are like that. We all have our moments.
The conversation basically ends with Maria wanting to talk to Sara about something important.
This is the first bit of information that may be a red flag for some.
As we walk through town, we pass by several buildings that hold memories that maybe aren’t great enough to have kept us here in the first place. These places include the petrol station, where bribery for drinks were had, the pizza place where the two had an after-exam ritual of eating pizza, a house that Maria once egged and wrote an apology on, and more.
Fun fact: When I worked at one of my jobs, my go-to place when I left for the day was Starbucks. I’d go there and enjoy my grande hot chocolate and sit in their for hours at a time reading or writing something. It got to the point that the staff knew what I wanted when I came in. That honestly happened with a lot of other places–ice cream shop, pizza place, Borders cafe, etc.
Another house you come across is Maria’s parent’s house–which is currently lived in by her lover, Jakob, and her son.
She mentions the house having a sinister vibe, but I don’t personally see it in the way the house looks. I mean, I guess it could look a little creepy with the lights off and the curtain colors and some of the objects seen through the windows. But I think the sinister is more from the folks being religious and Sara being averse to the path that everyone in town took.
Not to mention that (I think) the game references her as being lesbian who took an interest in Maria, so I highly doubt Maria’s parents were very welcoming.
Next building is the alcohol store, briefly mentioned that Maria’s sister bought them cheap wine that made Maria throw up. Another critical fact that might be worth noting for a future scenario.
Fun fact: My mom and I can’t drink red wine because it’ll give us migraines. And as someone who has chronic migraines, it’s not a fun after-effect.
The first character you meet is Elsa, who’s selling flowers in the rain, because what else is there to do in a small town with hardly anyone in it, right? It’s here that we get a timeline for how long Maria has been gone from this town–ten years. Also, it’s been one year to date since something happened. I’m sure at this point you can guess what might’ve happened.
We’re buying flowers, and we’re in a hurry and not wanting to talk about…something.
Another building we cross is an ICA, which, I don’t know about everywhere else, but I do know we have an IGA grocery store around here. Quite frankly, I’m still surprised they’re even around, as it’s one of those really old grocery stores that seems to have survived over the years when you doubted it would. Although, if ICA is a play on IGA, I don’t think it would be a place for people to “hang out”.
Run into each other in a small town? Yes. Hang out? Probably not.
Next up: Pub Diset, renamed such due to the sign breaking. Definitely lazy, but in a small town maybe there’s just nobody around that they want fixing it. Maybe it was easier to rename than to fix?
She also mentions bad dreams regarding the police station, so bad news or a troublemaker?
Perhaps the latter given how she feels about this place.
And of course the church before the cemetery…the only place she finds peace. She should, the dead don’t judge; they merely listen. Or so we believe. While our grandparents are here, the flowers we’ve bought are for Maria’s grave. Her tombstone is lit up with candles, and I can’t really understand how that works given the fact that it’s raining and they’re defying the water by remaining lit, unless they’re those fake candles that…need an outlet in order to turn on.
I get it, it’s a video game and I’m looking too far into it, but it’s just really weird, all right?
Her gravestone reads, “Maria Berg… 1992-2019.”
There’s also a verse on her gravestone that reads, “And there are still so many paths I haven’t trodden.” A verse that isn’t familiar with Sara, but I don’t feel like it’s all that odd considering there are a ton of verses out there that people will cling onto for different reasons. And because of the fact that Maria died at the age of 27, I think the verse is rather spot-on.
At this point Sara doesn’t really know what to do, which is natural. Nobody really knows what they want to do when they confront a cherished one in a grave. But for now, she wants to speak to Maria, without really knowing what to say. One of my ordeals with speaking in a cemetery is the idea that there are too many ears listening in on a personal one-sided conversation. Sure, everyone’s deceased, but also, you’re still in a public place with a ton of people…who just happen to be six feet under.
To Maria, Sara says, “…Hi Maria. I miss you, I guess is the first thing.. And I’m sorry I wasn’t here for the funeral.”
At this point, you have a few different options to choose from for your next response, ranging from the bland excuse of it not being your fault, to the fact you couldn’t face it, which is understandable, and a choice of being too wrapped up in your feelings. Personally, I think not being able to face the reality of her actually no longer being here would be the best answer as far as any excuse goes.
In fact, there have been a variety of family funerals that I didn’t attend because I don’t do well when it comes to situations of death and it’s just…too much to know that someone is laying in a box, y’know? It just feels too impersonal unless the coffin is hand-crafted specifically to that person, and who the hell does that?
Not a lot of people, that’s who.
I chose my recommended answer for the game and Sara continues with the chat, including this piece, “Sorry. But you should have come with me.”
Oh my God, (since we’re near a church), Sara. You can’t say shit like that. You can’t just tell Maria she should’ve gone with you and then none of this would’ve happened. You don’t know that.
For anyone who believes in fate and a set path for specific events, if she didn’t die here from whatever happened, she might’ve died somewhere else from something else on the same day and same time. It’s really not worth dwelling on, because it’ll never happen due to it having already happened. As for myself, I don’t really know what I’d believe as far as if I didn’t do this on that day, would the same thing have happened anyway? As someone with an active imagination, I do constantly think of different scenarios to events that have already occurred, but usually it all just rots my brain and needs to be dismissed.
But for fuck’s sake Sara.
Another multiple choice comes up from it not mattering now, to feeling angry toward Maria, to the audacity of her friend letting this place keep her.
While any of the choices are a pretty good statement to make, I went with the “How could you have let this place keep you?” question because it seems like something Sara would actually say in this moment.
At this point, we transition into a flashback of why Maria didn’t go with us.
Standing there in a dress–I assume for the graduation event–wondering if it looks good or not, we soon decide that our outfits don’t make any difference; the booking of tickets to get the hell out of dodge are what matters most. Unfortunately…Maria drops the bomb that she’s pregnant.
Not that that’s a terrible thing, even though pregnant women creep me out.
It’s unfortunate because since she’s pregnant with her boyfriend’s (Jakob’s) child, she’s not leaving to Stockholm with Sara as they both had planned. What happens next is kind of a short, stiff argument about booking an appointment with a doctor in order to plan an abortion. Maria wants the baby and declines the appointment. We start in one how Maria’s Jesus-freak parents can’t just make her have a baby, despite it being Maria and Jakob’s plans to keep it.
Looking back, it’s a shitty thing to get upset over. Even if the trip is something that’s been planned long in advance, feelings matter and just because one person has different beliefs on what a town wants doesn’t mean we should disregard the feelings of the person we’re trying to force into another situation that they don’t want.
Because we don’t align with the same ideas of a religious town, our aggression towards it boils over and we leave the room to book our singular, at this point, ticket.
I want to just take a moment to appreciate the emotion that was portrayed in this little flashback. From the singular word, “pregnant” that was said back and forth to each other multiple times as if to let it sink through, then Sara’s frantic, “okay, okay, we can deal with this, we’ll just go ahead and take care of it this way.” But before the pregnancy word-drop happened, we–as the viewer–knew something was up with Maria due to her stilted responses as well as the way she turned her head away when answering questions.
And then Maria slouches over when we walk out, making her hair fall forward.
This isn’t a game with a lot of graphical details to it. It’s a pretty simplistic looking pixel game, so the fact that they’re able to make little gestures like that and have it look naturally suspicious is so satisfying when it comes to connecting with characters.
As we come out of the flashback, we mention the last text Maria sent us–which was stated at the beginning of the game–and how we can’t seem to get over it. I’m on her level, honestly if someone sent me a “hey can we talk?” text and then ended up dying afterwards, I’d go out of my mind wondering what they wanted to talk about. We also mention that it doesn’t make sense for Maria to be out on that road, whatever that means.
Eventually we see Lina, who’s come to pay her respects to her little sister.
It’s not a very happy reunion between two people and you can kind of feel the ire that Lina has toward us, since we cared so much for Maria but didn’t even show up at her funeral. Also we state that we didn’t expect to see her, which is an atrocious statement to make, considering it’s the anniversary of Maria’s death and we’re standing beside her tombstone.
That statement leads to a conversational choice of “I didn’t mean it like that” to “I wasn’t expecting anyone out in the rain” to “you know that’s not what I meant.”
I kind of feel like two of those responses are exactly the same, but I guess they can be conveyed in different ways, depending on how you say them, so I’ll let that slide just this once. The rain choice is kind of a dumb excuse, and so I tried to be the nice one and chose the first option that just seemed less irritable.
The conversation borders on passive aggressive as Lina kind of just rubs it in our face that Maria missed us, and isn’t it just a shame that life gets so busy you can’t even check in on your friends. Like, damn girl, I get it, I’m a piece of shit.
The rest of the conversation sort of feels like filler content, but probably isn’t as some of it is important to take note of.
We do ask if she keeps in contact with Maria’s son and…I guess husband? I don’t really know, and I’m not sure if the game mentions it, but I would think with it being a religious town they had to have gotten married before Maria had her son. There’s a multiple choice regarding her husband’s name and you better fucking get it right, otherwise I can’t imagine the amount of hatred Lina would give you.
I didn’t want to put it to the test so I chose Jakob.
Yes, I’m a coward.
She confirms she’s been helping with the son and it’s a terrible age to lose a parent. Thank you ma’am can I have another berating observation from you? She asks what’s kept us busy and another choice comes up for copywriting, in charge of copy at our firm, or writing. I didn’t really see how any of those could’ve been the wrong answer or how they might’ve changed the next response.
I don’t think Lina really gave a damn either way, so we asked about the line on Maria’s stone. Apparently, Maria wrote poems and that line came from a cheerier one. We learn she didn’t give up writing, turned her room into a study, and was in someone named Gunnel’s writing group.
We ask what else she’d been up to and Lina responds with mothering and church, to which another multiple choice response gives us the options of, “I didn’t know she was religious,” to “I’m a little surprised by that” to “When did the God-botherers get her?” I’m sorry, but the third response made me laugh just buy how much of a bitch statement it would be to make.
I decided to respond with surprise, to which Lina responded with, “I daresay there are lots of things you don’t know about what Maria’s life was like here after you left.” And on that note, we decided it was time to no longer provoke the hissing cat with words sharper than its claws.
We went ahead and walked away and decided it was time to solve the mystery of how Maria died.
This is where the game is really good at steering you to a specific conclusion, but the ending kind of slaps you in the face for assuming everything. We’re also kind of going to speed things up here and skip a lot of the filler content, because you really should take the time to play the game, as it’s really good for how short it is.
We meet Gunnel at the supermarket who was the leader of the writing group Maria was in. Here we learn that Maria wrote about death a lot. At the police station, we speak with Sten Nilsson who was first officer at the scene where Maria died. She was on the main road south to Stockholm, where we had moved to. For some reason she went off road and over the cliff. We visit her house to speak with Jakob, who said Maria got two tickets to a hockey game for a father-son thing the night she died. Finally, in her room, we find a receipt for two bottles of vodka.
It’s noted that she hated vodka, so the fact that she bought some is another red flag, you could say, along with her dark writing.
Fun fact: Back when I used to write almost every day, it would always somehow feature some kind of abuse or a death that had happened. In a book I never finished, in fact, the main character was periodically harassed by visions of his dead, abusive drunk of a father while searching for his child that was no longer among the living. Another line from a story I never wrote was of vampire children singing a song below a man who was hung and being drained of blood. It went a little like this, “Drip, drop, blood won’t clot, how many drips til their last drop,” and then they’d start counting as if they were jump-roping or something. Just because we read and write dark things doesn’t always mean there’s something wrong.
We return to Elsa for her to say that she saw Maria coming out of the store being all sneaky with bags of alcohol.
Filip who used to be our teacher is outside the pub and mentions that they were all at Maria’s house the night she died. She invited them all over. And then Sten shows up with the news.
After adding all this information up, I’m sure you’ve come up with the same conclusion that Sara has regarding her friend’s death, and when you go back to the cemetery and speak with her sister, you’ve got two options as far as what you want to say. One is the mild version of an ending while the other is met with hostility. Either way, the ending is the same. You walk out of town and sit on the same car you and Maria sat on while contemplating your future of leaving the town behind.
I won’t go into what you say to Lina, nor what she says to you either way, but it’s easy to believe that Maria might’ve committed suicide at this point.
Let’s go through the details.
First off, she wrote about death a lot.
A lot of people think that if someone writes about depressing things or writes about death and violence and abuse that there’s something going on behind closed doors, and that’s just not always the case. I grew up with a family that loves me and I wrote about death in one way or another all the time. Sure there were times I was depressed when I wrote, but really, it’s all about the ideas that came to me and the genres that I enjoyed.
Just because I wrote about a man who branded his son’s arms with lit cigarettes doesn’t mean it’s ever happened to me. Sometimes people write just to vent, just to get something out of their head that they’ve been holding onto for too long. Some people just write about fucked up shit, y’know? Have you read any of Richard Laymon’s books? Or J.A. Konrath? Good lord!
Second, she bought two bottles of vodka.
This felt a little odd to me, because while I’m not an avid drinker myself, I don’t think it would take two bottles of vodka to get fucked up. I think it would only take one, and maybe not even a full one, which meant getting two had another meaning to it. Not for someone to find one bottle and one full if she did have plans to go kill herself, because again, that wouldn’t make much since. An empty bottle is a lot more telling than a full one.
And since the road she was one goes to Stockholm, where Sara was, then I can only assume it was for us. But that still leaves the question of why at this point.
Especially since she used to not like vodka in the past. BUT! You have to also remember that people do change and I think that goes the same with what people like and dislike and tolerate. Maybe if we liked vodka, then she would be getting one for both of us, but it’s never stated by Sara her own tastes on the stuff.
The fact that she was coming out of the store stealthily with alcohol I could kind of wave off, because in a town that probably frowns on that kind of thing, she might not have wanted certain people to find out. Especially Jakob, as we don’t exactly know if he’d be acceptable of that.
Third, she got two tickets for Jakob and their son to go to a hockey game for a father-son bonding event.
This…didn’t really vibe with everyone getting together at the house. Did they go to the event and then get back to the house by the time everyone was there? Because it would be super weird if she gave everyone instructions to be at her place at a certain time and none of the people who owned the house were even there. Aside from that, the hockey game could’ve been a way to get them out of her hair for a bit, such as using that time to buy the vodka, knowing they’d be out for a while.
And it would be a happy even for the both of them before they came home to a chilling outcome…which is a bit barbaric if you ask me.
Fourth, getting everyone together.
It’s basically the perfect setup to introduce something big to everyone at once. So if someone did want to go out with a bang, and not have the news spread like wildfire, it would be perfect to get everyone you know in one area in order for the news to be delivered all at once to the people you wanted it to get to, rather than leaving a note for someone to read, and you not knowing who that someone might be.
Or even if they’d actually get a chance to read it before finding out about what happened in the first place.
To end the assumptions and place everything together, after being separated from her friend Sara and writing about morbid things for however long, Maria got Jakob and her son out for a bit while she probably bought two bottles of vodka. She told everyone she wanted to know to get together at her place, probably some time after her family got back from the event. She drove out on a road that was apparently dangerous with a cliffside that would lead to Stockholm–to what, make people think she was leaving town?–and ended up going over, ending with the officer telling everyone at the house.
Outside looking in, it all kind of makes sense. Especially when you’re still distraught over someone’s death and really just want to know the why of it.
This game points at the obvious conclusion so well while also leaving you wondering if it’s really the case, and while I won’t get into the endings spoilers, it’s not. It’ll still probably leave you suspicious about how it all ended, but…the mystery is closed by the end of the game and you’re left feeling pretty disheartened and upset over it all.
Overall…it’s a damn good game for how short it is, and emotional.